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Posted On Thursday, 04.26.2012 / 11:50 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Theodore, Garrison expected back for Panthers

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Mums the word on who will start between the pipes for the Florida Panthers in Game 7 against the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal on Thursday at BankAtlantic Center.
 
Well, sort of.
 
While head coach Kevin Dineen offered his usual post-practice soliloquy regarding how confident he is with the play of both goalies, keep in mind that Jose Theodore was manning the cage that the Panthers will defend in the first and third periods. He was also the first goalie off the ice, which is also a pretty good indication he'll get the nod as the Game 7 starter.
 
When Theodore is officially given the nod, it will be his second career Game 7.
 
"It's do or die," Theodore told reporters on Wednesday after practice. "These are the kind of games you want to be part of. I mean, everybody, when you’re a kid and you play hockey, you always imagine that it’s Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. So obviously it’s a game everybody wants to be part of and help the team win."
 
Said Dineen: "Jose has a tremendous amount of respect in this League and he's given us credibility and stability and deserves a start if he can go."
 
After posting his second career playoff shutout in Game 5, Theodore was suffering from a lower-body injury in Game 6 and was replaced in net by Scott Clemmensen. Both Clemmensen and Jacob Markstrom were taking turns at one end of the rink during Thursday's practice.
 
In addition to Theodore, the Panthers might also welcome offensive-defenseman Jason Garrison back to the lineup. Garrison has been sidelined the last three games with a lower-body injury.
 
"It's tough watching regular season games from the stands, let alone playoffs," Garrison said after his team's morning skate on Thursday. "But I'm fortunate there's still a game left, so I'll try and contribute and help the team."
 
How confident is he that he'll start the game?
 
"I don't want to jinx myself, but it would take a whole lot," Garrison said.
 
Here is the probable Game 7 lineup for the Panthers:
 
Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Scottie Upshall - Shawn Matthias - Jerred Smithson
Marco Sturm - John Madden - Tomas Kopecky
 
Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver
Ed Jovanovski - Erik Gudbranson
 
Jose Theodore
Scott Clemmensen
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Posted On Thursday, 04.26.2012 / 11:36 AM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Senators series blog

Callahan practices, will be in lineup; Boyle out

NEW YORK -- If there were any concerns about Ryan Callahan's availability for Game 7 on Thursday night, he put them to rest this morning.

The Rangers' captain took part in practice in preparation for a do-or-die contest with the Ottawa Senators at Madison Square Garden after being given a "maintenance day" Wednesday. Callahan blocked a shot with his hand during Game 6 and received attention from a trainer on the bench but stayed in the game.

Callahan showed no ill effects from the injury at practice and said he is "fine" for Game 7.

In other injury news for the Rangers, center Brian Boyle (concussion) did not participate in the game-day skate and will not be available.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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Posted On Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 11:33 PM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Bracket Challenge Blog

Caps and Bruins finish off a series to remember

It will go down as the tightest series in NHL history -- and for the Boston Bruins, one of the most disappointing.

Braden Holtby
Goalie - WSH
RECORD: 4-3-0
GAA: 2.00 | SVP: 0.940
Boston's reign as Stanley Cup champs came to a stunning end Wednesday night when Joel Ward scored 2:57 into overtime to give the Washington Capitals a 2-1 victory in Game 7, sending the Caps onto the second round and the Bruins home for the summer.

It's the first seven-game series in Stanley Cup history in which every game was decided by a single goal -- no other series had had more than five one-goal games. For all but a 2:54 span late in the second period of Game 5, neither team led by more than one goal at any point in the seven games -- meaning that for 427:34 of the 430:28 played in the series, the teams were tied or separated by one goal. 
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 4:50 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Smithson bringing faceoff ability, physical play

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers acquired veteran center Jerred Smithson a few days before the trading deadline to add depth up front, bring a physical presence and help on faceoffs.

After Smithson was a healthy scratch in the first two games of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against New Jersey, coach Kevin Dineen decided he could use what Smithson had to offer.

There's been no looking back.

Smithson has recorded only one assist in the four playoff games he has played, but he's contributed in other ways.

Game 5 was a perfect example.

Even though he didn't make it on the scoresheet in the Panthers' 3-0 victory at the BankAtlantic Center, Smithson was credited with a team-high nine hits -- four more than anybody else on the team -- and also was a perfect 6-for-6 on faceoffs.

"That is my game," Smithson said of the physical play. "I'm not a huge offensive guy, even though this time of year you need to do a little bit of everything. You need those grinders to try to contribute offensively and the skilled guys, not necessarily to play physical, but to get in there and bump and check. It takes every little bit of effort this time of year. For myself, I know what I have to do to be effective and to help the team. Whether it was nine [hits] or just a couple, you've got to go out there and do it."

Ironically, the player that Smithson replaced in the lineup for Game 3 was Wojtek Wolski, the Panthers' other trade-deadline acquisition.

Wolski began the series playing on a line with Scottie Upshall and Shawn Matthias primarily because he offered more offensive potential than Smithson.

Smithson, who also had been a healthy scratch for four of the last five regular season games, could do little but wait for his turn.

"To be honest, it was frustrating there for a little while," said Smithson, whom the Panthers acquired from Nashville on Feb. 24 for a sixth-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft. "That being said, we had such a good team and we were heading in the right direction. I was happy for the guys here, for the organization to finally get in and make the playoffs, and then to get that call, it was a relief. A lot of times you kind of don't know where you stand. I was ready and just waiting for the call. I'm glad I got it.

"Being around the game long enough now, it really does take everyone. Guys get banged up, whether it's injuries, suspensions, yada, yada, you have to be ready both physically and mentally. That's something I tried to pride myself upon is to be a good pro and be there for my teammates. If they need me, I'll be there."

Dineen said the change from Wolski to Smithson was a mattering of "tinkering," but there hasn't been any tinkering since.

Smithson hasn't given Dineen any reason to change things around.

"What Smithson does is that gives them a little bit of stability out there," Dineen said. "They know they have someone that's very responsible on the defensive side of things and they can create on the offense as well."

Smithson and Upshall actually were teammates in Nashville in 2006-07 and the following season until Upshall was traded to Philadelphia, but Smithson said he didn't recall playing on the same line very often.

"Maybe a couple of games," Smithson said. "It seems such a long time ago now. He's an easy guy to play with. He works real hard, he skates well, he can get in there on the forecheck. For myself, it's get in on the forecheck, get the puck loose or give him a good dump and let him use his speed. Both guys are real easy to play with."


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Posted On Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 4:40 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

Quick is modest, but numbers make case for Vezina

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Those that have been around Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick know that getting him to talk about himself is not easy.

Quick is overly modest and prefers to frame individual accomplishment in a team context, and he was no different after his nomination for the Vezina Trophy was announced Wednesday.

"It's something that a lot of hard work has been put into and it kind of goes to credit the way these guys played in front of me all year," Quick said. "Being a goaltender is a position that you're more dependent on your teammate than any other position in sports. For your goalie to be put in a category like that, these guys are doing a tremendous job, which they've done for me all year."

Modesty aside, Quick clearly established himself this season and, at 26, is already considered among the top goalies in club history.

He led the NHL with 10 shutouts, was second in goals-against average at 1.95 and tied for fifth in save percentage (.929), which were all Kings' single-season records. He is the first Kings goalie to win 30 games (35 this season) for three straight seasons.

Quick had three straight shutouts from Oct. 18-22 and ran a consecutive scoreless streak to 202 minutes, 11 seconds. Quick was the foundation of a Kings team that failed to provide him offense. There were five games in which Quick allowed one goal and still lost, including back-to-back 1-0 losses on Feb. 16-18.

"It's kind of like a pitcher that gets no run support," Colin Fraser said. "He did his job. We've got to do ours. Those are the games where he doesn't get those wins in the win column."

Kings coach Darryl Sutter has said that a goaltender has to win 40 games in order to win the Vezina. But Sutter said Thursday that Quick's other numbers provide argument for the nod. Quick was second to Brian Elliott of St. Louis in goals-against average.

"If you look at the big picture, he's the only guy that's either first or second to Elliott in three or four [categories] and Elliott's ahead of him in one other one," Sutter said. "Honestly, for Quick, it's too bad [with] St. Louis you can't do a two-for-one. If it was, then it's probably the direction it's going."

Quick is the youngest of the three nominees and acknowledged so when he referenced Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and Pekke Rinne of the Nashville Predators.

"It's a tremendous honor to be put in a category with Hank and Pekke," said Quick, who is 4-1 with a 1.59 GAA in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. "They're two great goalies in this League, well-respected goalies … at the same time, though, it's not the trophy that I set out to win. We still have a shot at the other one."

No King has won the Vezina. Rogie Vachon and Gary Edwards were runners-up in 1975.

McDonald an X-factor:
Sutter acknowledged that there is an unknown factor with St. Louis in that his team did not see Andy McDonald in the regular season. Also, David Perron and Alexander Steen played only two games against L.A.

Sutter pointed to McDonald and Steen as factors.

"The two 1-0 games [on Feb. 3 and March 22] -- they didn't play either game, so obviously it fortifies the first or second line," Sutter said. "They're able to play [David] Backes, [T.J.] Oshie and McDonald, Steen and [Patrik] Berglund. They're top guys … McDonald is probably real similar to Justin Williams. Both guys won the Cup … it's a pretty good matchup."

Sutter still prefers home:
Sutter is a stickler for routine and scheduling, and he spent the past two days talking about when his team might travel to St. Louis.

He pointed out that that is a product of not having home-ice advantage, and he didn't read much into the success that road teams are having in the postseason.

The Kings won three games in Vancouver and are on a franchise-record five-game road playoff winning streak. But don't tell that to Sutter.

"As you go along, that's all [meaningless]," Sutter said. "I know from the experience of it. The less travel you have, you want to be in your own building. It still [makes] a big difference. It's very simple. I'd rather be having players getting treated in our treatment centers and not in a hotel and not on an airplane, and getting practice in your own building."
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 4:00 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Blackhawks series blog

Hawks optimistic Hossa will return fine next season

CHICAGO -- After hearing the term "severe injury" used about Marian Hossa in the League's explanation video about the 25-game suspension for an illegal hit by Raffi Torres, there was cause to wonder if the injury could be long-term -- maybe even stretching into next season.

The 33-year old Hossa, a star forward for the Chicago Blackhawks, missed the final three games of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the Phoenix Coyotes because of an undisclosed upper-body injury after Torres clipped his head with his shoulder and sent him to the hospital. Hossa, who led the Hawks in scoring with 77 points (29 goals and 48 assists), left the hospital that night under his own power after being taken off the ice on a stretcher.

Chicago general manager Stan Bowman, however, said on Wednesday that he doesn't think Hossa's injury will linger into next season.

"[We're] very optimistic that he's going to be back," Bowman said. "We're here in April and training camp doesn't open until September. That's a lot of time to be rested and prepared and training in the offseason. So, we don't approach that any differently than a different injury."

Hossa briefly made an appearance at United Center on Wednesday during the team's locker clearout/player evaluation meetings, but didn't speak with reporters. As for his injury, it's starting to sound similar to other concussion-related issues that plagued several Blackhawks players -- including captain Jonathan Toews, who missed the last 22 games of the regular season before returning for the playoff series.

"We've had a lot of similar-type injuries with players in the past and it's too hard to predict a recovery time on these things," Bowman said. "There's no reason to think [Hossa is] any different than any other player that has that type of injury."

Toews, meanwhile, declined an invitation to play for Canada at the upcoming IIHF World Championships primarily because he doesn't want to risk a relapse of his concussion.

"I think for now the smart play is just to rest and make sure everything's clear and it's behind me," Toews said. "Obviously, I'd like to go represent Canada every chance I get, but right now it's not the smartest thing to do."

If Hossa is having similar injury issues as Toews, then his advice would be not to push returning to hockey-related activities too quickly and be honest with himself and doctors about how he's feeling.

Toews said he played "a handful" of games before speaking up about how he was feeling, which he said won't happen again should he feel that way again in the future.

"I think it's something I still need to look into to make sure it's a problem that I've dealt with and it's gone and it's not going to come back," Toews said. "It was definitely a learning experience going through two months being away from the guys and out of the locker room and having to deal with that sort of thing. It's not something I want to go through again, but I'll definitely be smarter about it next time."
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 3:04 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Theodore, Garrison on ice for Panthers

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- Goalie Jose Theodore and defenseman Jason Garrison were on the ice Wednesday, but whether they'll be in the lineup for the Florida Panthers for Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series Thursday against the New Jersey Devils (8:30 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, NBCSN [JIP], TSN) remains unknown.

Theodore and Garrison were among six players who took the ice for a 30-minute optional skate at the Panthers' practice facility.

Theodore was scratched for Game 6 Tuesday because of what was described as a lower-body injury. Scott Clemmensen stopped 39 of 42 shots in Florida's 3-2 overtime loss, but coach Kevin Dineen said Wednesday that Theodore will be in net for Game 7 -- health permitting.

"I just watched him there for a few minutes and he looks pretty good out there," Dineen said. "That's encouraging for us. It gives us that option to go with him [Thursday]. That will be a health-based decision.

"I've been playing this game all series long who we're going to start, and the truth of the matter is there's a question mark because we have trust in both our goalies. But Theo has been our go-to guy, and if he's available, he'll be the one running, I think."

Theodore shut out the Devils in his last start, making 30 saves in the Panthers' 3-0 victory in Game 5 Saturday.

He took part in Florida's practice Monday but wasn't on the ice for the morning skate Tuesday.

"It's hard," Theodore said Wednesday. "After a shutout, you've got a good feel. You want to get back in there. You feel good about where your game is at and then you have a little setback. Obviously it was frustrating to watch the last game, but today is a new day. It was good to be back on the ice."

Theodore has appeared in only one Game 7 in his 16 NHL seasons, but it was a memorable one.

Playing for Montreal, Theodore helped the Canadiens complete their comeback from a 3-1 series deficit with a 2-0 shutout at Boston in the 2004 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

"It was a fun night," Theodore said. "Coming into Game 7 and winning in a shutout was obviously a good feeling and it was fun. It seems like it's been a long time, but you still remember that feeling after the game. There's nothing like playing a Game 7, and when you do accomplish a win, it's really a good feeling."

Theodore would love nothing more than to get the chance for more Game 7 heroics.

"I feel better than [Tuesday] for sure," he said. "It was a good day today, but then again, when you play in such an important game as Game 7, you've got to make sure you're able to really help your team and not be a distraction.

"Obviously it's do-or-die. These are the kind of games you want to be part of. Everybody when you're a kid and you play hockey, you always imagine that Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Obviously, it's a game everybody wants to be part of and help the team win."

Garrison, for his part, is playing in the playoffs for the first time.

His goal in the final minute of the first period of Game 3 helped the Panthers rally from a 3-0 deficit to win 4-3.

However, he was a late scratch prior to Game 4 and hadn't been on the ice since then prior to his skate Wednesday.

"I've still got another day and a half here to prepare myself," Garrison said. "Obviously you want to play, but you want to do what's best for the team. You don't want to put the guys on the ice in jeopardy by any means. I'm just going to take this day and a half. If I'm going to play, I'm going to make sure I can go out there and play the way I play."

Joining Garrison and Theodore on the ice Wednesday were Game 6 healthy scratches Mike Santorelli, Krys Barch and Wojtek Wolski, along with defenseman Keaton Ellerby, who missed the last two games after sustaining a lower-body injury in Game 4. Ellerby, seeing his first action since March 15, was in the lineup in Garrison's place.
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 2:34 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Blackhawks series blog

Retirement an option for Brunette

CHICAGO -- Andrew Brunette signed a one-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks last summer for one main reason.

The 38-year old forward wanted to be part of a legitimate Stanley Cup contender and saw the young core group of stars in Chicago as his best opportunity. As it turned out, it was a frustrating season for Brunette and the Blackhawks, who were bounced from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in six games by the Phoenix Coyotes in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

Brunette, who hurt his right foot blocking a shot late in the season and played through the pain in the postseason, doesn't foresee the Blackhawks bringing him back, and the 16-year NHL veteran is contemplating retirement.

"I think they're going to go in a different direction, so I'm not going to be holding my breath thinking that they're going to call or hanging around by the phone," Brunette told reporters during Chicago's locker clean-out/player meetings day at United Center. "I haven't really thought about [the future]. It takes a few days to decompress and think about, kind of what happened and kind of re-assess when the mind clears and you're able to come up for air a little bit. We'll see as we go along."

Asked later about whether he was considering retirement, Brunette admitted it could be a possibility.

"It was a tough year and you don't want to leave this way, but there's times when the game tells you to leave and you don't have a decision," Brunette, who finished with 12 goals and 15 assists in 78 games, said. "We'll see. I'm not sure. I'm going to let it decompress, come up for air and make some kind of decision."

Brunette has 268 goals and 465 assists in 1,110 games with six different teams.
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 2:28 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Stinger slowed, but couldn't stop, Zajac

NEWARK, N.J. -- Before scoring in overtime in Game 6, there were questions surrounding the status of New Jersey Devils center Travis Zajac midway through the second period.
 
At one point, Zajac limped off the ice and into the locker room, but he returned one shift later.
 
"It was kind of a stinger and I just skated off but was fine after that," Zajac said Wednesday afternoon as his team made final preparations before boarding a plane to Florida for Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series Friday (8:30 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, NBCSN [JIP], TSN).

It turned out to be just what the doctor ordered, as Zajac finished the game with 24:23, won 14 of 23 faceoffs and scored the Devils' biggest goal of the season -- so far.
 
Devils coach Peter DeBoer admitted he began moving players around when Zajac initially left the bench area.
 
"We started to make some adjustments on the bench to move guys around and figuring that he might not be back and it was nice to see him hop back out there," DeBoer said.
 
Zajac, who certainly has endured his share of injuries this season, ended Game 6 5:39 into overtime. His teammates couldn't help but laud his effort since returning from a left Achilles injury that limited his to just 15 regular-season games this season.
 
"It's a great thing for him mentally to play at the level he's playing right now, but at the end of the day, regardless if you're a guy coming back from an injury or a guy just starting, to score an overtime goal in the playoffs is quite a feat," Devils goalie Martin Brodeur said. "I think you build up a lot of confidence by doing different things on the ice at certain times in your career and for him, I'm sure that's a pretty big highlight."
 
Zajac underwent Achilles surgery in August, missed training camp and didn't play until Dec. 16, only to be sidelined again after playing against Ottawa on Jan. 2. The 26-year-old forward is just happy to be back on the ice and contributing to the team.
 
"[DeBoer] made it easier on me when I came back, putting me with Kovy [Ilya Kovalchuk] and Zach [Parise], two of the best players in the world," Zajac said. "He put me in a great situation with them. They make the game easier and it's fun to play with them. They compete hard, and that wears off on you. This is the best time to play hockey and we want to do well. We have high expectations and wanted to get a shot at a Game 7."
 
Kovalchuk, who assisted on Zajac's game-winner, wasn't at all surprised by Zajac's heroics Tuesday.
 
"It's nice … he got a little hard check in the second period but came back, shook it off and scored a big goal," Kovalchuk said. "Like I said before, he's our best centerman and one of our leaders so it didn't surprise me that he scored that kind of goal."
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 2:16 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Kovalchuk preparing to play in his first Game 7

NEWARK, N.J. -- It was a sequence even New Jersey Devils coach Pete DeBoer couldn't draw up. Then again, why bother, when you have players such as Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac on your roster.
 
It happened Tuesday night with over five minutes gone in overtime of Game 6 when Parise broke up a two-on-one breakout by the Panthers, getting his stick in on Stephen Weiss at the last second, before ultimately chipping the puck to Kovalchuk along the boards at center ice.
 
Kovalchuk carried the puck over the Florida blue line, drew two defenders to him and then zipped a pass to Zajac on his left for a quick shot from the left circle that beat Panthers goaltender Scott Clemmensen under the pads to force a winner-take-all Game 7 on Thursday at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla.
 
"It's a cliché, but your best players have to be your best players this time of year and, in Game 6, ours were," DeBoer said. "Parise with the backcheck, Marty [Brodeur] with the save, Kovy with the great pass and Travis with the finish. I don't think there's any secret formula there, the guys know that and we've got to do it again."
 
So after 10 seasons of producing incredible regular-season statistics, Kovalchuk will finally get an opportunity to experience a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
 
Is he excited? You bet.
 
"It's great," Kovalchuk said. "This is going to be my first Game 7 ever. It's exciting. I'm sure the building will be loud, they'll be going, but we have to do the same thing. If we're going to forecheck well, we can't give them a lot of turnovers in the second period. We have to be strong."
 
Unlike Kovalchuk, Devils goalie Martin Brodeur will be playing in his 10th career Game 7. He sports a 5-4 record in such contests and is 11-12 in elimination games over this 18-season career.
 
"I guess the preparation may be a little different for a Game 7, but when you get into the game, it's still a hockey game," Brodeur said. "It's an exciting time."
 
While the Devils did outshoot (42-16) and outhit (28-27) the Panthers in Game 6, they also turned the puck over 15 times. The Panthers finished the game with eight giveaways. DeBoer was also pleased with the fact his team took just one minor penalty in the game.
 
Kovalchuk believes both teams will be feeling the heat on Thursday, and not just because they'll be in the Sunshine State. The team scoring first has won five of the six games.
 
"The pressure is on," Kovalchuk said. "What are you talking about? It's Game 7, so it's anybody's game now. We just have to go out there and play well."

Kovalchuk now has three goals and five points in six playoff games.
 
DeBoer can sense, with each passing game, that Kovalchuk is gaining more confidence.
 
"Kovy rose to the occasion and we've seen that all year in him … he's been on board and willing to do what it takes," DeBoer told the media on Wednesday afternoon. "He has off-nights once in a while, but very rarely two in a row and he follows it up with a big performance. That's what we got last night, but he'll have to replicate that again."
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale


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